UN Forum on Business and Human Rights: corporate respect for human rights will not be a reality until human rights defenders are effectively protected

Press release

At the seventh UN Multi-stakeholder Forum on Business and Human Rights that starts today in Geneva, FIDH will emphasize the critical role played by human rights defenders (HRDs) in the efforts towards corporate respect for human rights and stress the need for measures to protect HRDs who are increasingly endangered when they denounce violations committed by businesses. Indeed HRDs play a crucial role in ensuring that business activities are conducted in a way that is respectful of people and of the planet. They are key actors in the pursuit of justice against corporate abuse and often pay a heavy price for their work.

A few weeks after the World Human Rights Defenders Summit in Paris where defenders underlined that they face increasing threats from both public and private actors, FIDH joins the call on States and corporations to take action, including legislative and multilateral measures, to improve the protection of defenders advocating in the context of business activities. The protection for women human rights defenders and indigenous rights defenders who are routinely victim of violations from companies should be a priority target of action.

“It is crucial that despite the challenges of an increasingly busy program, the UN Forum [1] does not lose its essence. It must put the voices of HRDs at the center of its work and provide defenders with space to offer an insight into their lives and struggles as well as to present their challenges and expectations to businesses, investors and governments” said Debbie Stothard, Secretary General of FIDH and Coordinator of Altsean-Burma, who will be the moderator of a session on HRDs on Monday.

The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights seems to have taken this concern seriously : it included HRDs on the panel of the Forum’s opening plenary and will organize a session on Safeguarding human rights defenders Trends and innovations in collaboration with FIDH and five other civil society organizations. [2] “We look forward to this dialog with the Forum on the situation of defenders” , said Mohammad Nayyeri from Justice for Iran, an FIDH member organization, who will speak on the panel, “however, we hope that this will be a recurring theme throughout the Forum and a genuine concern for all participants. Otherwise, the Forum will never reach its objective which is to ensure corporate respect for human rights.”

FIDH hopes that this will be the first step towards a Forum on Business and Human Rights that is not just a place for networking and visibility for companies but a gathering that genuinely puts people and their challenges at the heart of the discussion. This is a prerequisite for progress towards a more just globalization.

Over 2,000 stakeholders including governments, businesses, academics and civil society organizations attend the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights session every year. FIDH will participate in this event to stress the urgent need to improve the protection of defenders monitoring business-related human rights abuses.

On Monday 26 November at 9.00 am, FIDH is co-organizing with six other civil society organizations  [3] a session entitled Voices from the ground, that will feature a panel made up of human rights defenders from different regions of the world. The session co-organized with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights on Safeguarding human rights defenders: trends and innovations will take place on Tuesday 27 November at 11.30 am.

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